The Starting Pitching Wheel of Roulette

Besides relief pitchers, the starting pitcher market is the most volatile year after year.  Pitchers get hurt, try to push through pain, get really lucky or unlucky, or they age at different rates. This all leads to a market that has more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Cedar Point.  It doesn’t help that managers and teams are starting to use the bullpen more often or to even open the game. All of that aforementioned themes leads to a dwindling pool of fantasy aces, and starting pitchers are pitching less and less every year.   When you are evaluating a pitcher, you can help yourself by looking at some key metrics and you’ll find that you have two similar players spread out by 100 picks in ADP.  

Over the past weekend I compiled four projections systems and mashed them together for a composite projection – due to my draft being pushed up by nearly 3 weeks.  It turned out to be a great exercise as I was able to teach myself a few things in the process and have stored them in my database for future uses.

Collin McHugh was moved to the bullpen last year due to the Houston Astros luxury of starting pitching depth.  With Charlie Morton gone and Dallas Keuchel still unsigned, it looks as though McHugh is going to get his chance to be a starting pitcher. And you, being the savvy fantasy baseball owner, can capitalize on it and bring some incredible depth to your rotation.  

I like to use visualizations to provide context to the data that I am seeing in a spreadsheet.  You can only filter and sort so many times or create formulas that it can make your eyes go cross. In this example, I took two common statistics that are used to analyze starting pitchers, which is K/9 and WHIP.  

 

When I started this exercise I began looking through the data and notice a few clusters of pitchers which I began to examining.  In this example, I’ve filtered out all of the pitchers except 3 of them bunched together.  I’ve provided the entire Tableau below for your enjoyment, if you are in to that sort of thing.

  • Player A has an ADP of 72.2 with a K/9 of 9.23 and a WHIP of 1.24
  • Player B has an ADP of 133.8 with a K/9 of 9.15 and a WHIP of 1.24
  • Player C has an ADP of 226.8 with a K/9 of 9.11 and a WHIP of 1.24

If you haven’t already, you can figured out that Collin McHugh is Player C, but Player A is Jose Berrios and Player C is J.A. Happ.

When we stack all 3 of these players together, it gets even more interesting.  In fact, it’s a bit ridiculous how closely tied together these three pitchers are in their projections. The biggest difference between them is that McHugh is projected to only pitch 140 innings, while Happ is at 168 and Berrios is at 194.  McHugh does come with some risks that he might get moved back to the bullpen in a role that he thrived in last year, posting stellar numbers across the board. Also, he exited his first start with some back soreness, which is something that has plagued him throughout his career.  

McHugh is expected to be fine – most clubs are going to play it safe at this point in spring training. I wouldn’t count on a full season of starts from McHugh, like I would from Berrios, but I could see him coming close to 170 to 180 innings this year health permitting.

Name IP ERA WHIP K_9 BB_9  SO BB ADP
J.A. Happ 168 3.98 1.24 9.15 2.86 171 53 133.8
Collin McHugh 140 4.06 1.24 9.11 2.81 141 44 226.8
Jose Berrios 194 3.95 1.24 9.23 2.98 199 64 72.2

This next pitcher is someone has been fantastic when he’s healthy, but a real thorn in your side when he’s not.  In fact, I’m getting a blister just writing about him, and he probably is getting one to as I type?! Either way, Rich Hill is the ripe young age of 38 and carries a lot of risk year to year.  You cannot rely on him, even when he’s perfectly healthy, those darn blisters form and he gets the hook after an inning and a third. If we could only dip his hands into magical waters so that he’d never form another blister again.  Supposedly he has found a cure for these blisters, but I won’t believe it until I see it.

Using the same visualization as I did above, I noticed Rich Hill is closely linked with another player with a high ADP of 61.9.  Certainly, this other pitcher must have a clean bill of health because he’s going off the board before Berrios. We already know that he doesn’t give up a lot of walks or hits and strikeouts a bunch of guys.  If you can’t read sarcasm, I’m laying it on pretty thick right now.

The other pitcher is Stephen Strasburg, who hasn’t pitcher more than 176 innings in a season over the past four years. To be fair, Rich Hill hasn’t pitcher more than 136 innings in any season this decade.  It’s almost like they are the same pitcher, but separated by 100 picks.

Name IP  ERA  WHIP  K_9  BB_9  SO BB ADP
Rich Hill 150 3.63 1.18 9.88 2.98 165 50 169.4
Stephen Strasburg 175 3.62 1.18 9.96 2.60 193 51 61.9

As you can see, the projection models are giving Strasburg 175 innings  and Hill 150. Let’s just stop right there because, this is being incredibly generous to both pitchers.  Hill has pitched 110.1, 135.2, and 125.2 in subsequent years, while Strasburg has pitched 147.2, 175.1, and 130 over the past three seasons. These projections are most likely to be at the top of their innings pitched.  Buyer beware.

Although, I would like to see how someone’s pitching staff shakes out with both of these pitchers in their rotation – at 175 and 150 innings for each of them – along with an ace like deGrom or Verlander. It’s certainly too risky for my taste to carry both of them. But if you are looking for a pitcher around the 14th round and Hill is still on the board, I would certainly recommend taking him and hoping that the blisters subside this year. Click below for the full version of the charts above on public.tableau.com.

 

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